How the Feingold Diet Changed a Boy’s Life

Jean began a challenging health journey with her son, Alex, at the age of six. It started with a series of involuntary movements, including teeth grinding, blinking eyes, shoulder movements and later kicking movements. Around the same time, he began exhibiting behavioral problems, symptoms mirroring that of a child with ADHD.

Initially, Alex’s pediatrician thought he was a nervous child, but as Jean said, “We never thought this was the correct diagnosis.” The medicine prescribed for involuntary movements is the same as someone with Tourettes syndrome. Given the medication’s long list of side effects, neither Alex’s physician nor his parents were in favor of this treatment option.

As an alternative strategy, Jean started taking Alex to a naturopath. The naturopath treated him with vitamin therapy and later homeopathic medicine. Both helped a little but did not cure the involuntary movements. In fact, by the time Alex was seven years old, he had developed some complex involuntary movements. In addition, he was easily distracted at school, couldn’t focus and was getting in trouble with increased frequency.

The Feingold Discovery

All while seeking advice from professionals, Jean bought parenting books and scoured medical school websites, in hopes of gleaning useful information. One day, she received a newsletter which referenced the Feingold Association, a non-profit founded in 1976 to provide a dietary management program for both children and adults. Their work and research show that certain synthetic food additives, preservatives and artificial colors can have serious learning, behavior, and/or health effects for sensitive people. The Feingold Program (also known as the Feingold Diet) is a test to determine if certain foods or food additives are triggering particular symptoms.

Jean had nothing to lose and implemented the new dietary regime right away.

Within 36 hours of being on the Feingold program, 90 percent of Alex’s involuntary movements were gone. Within three weeks, 90 percent of his behavioral problems were eliminated.

How the Diet Worked

During Stage One of the Feingold diet, foods with synthetic chemicals (e.g., additives, preservatives, artificial colors), foods containing salicylates, and aspirin were eliminated from Alex’s diet, including natural foods such as fruit. During Stage Two, through a process of trial and error, Alex added back in natural products to test which one(s) were on his “safe” list. He now safely consumes tomatoes and peaches, but has never been able to add back in berries.

According to Jean, “The most difficult part of the diet was the first day – when Alex told me he hated me. However, after feeling the immediate improvement in his health, he never told me that again.”

One secret to Alex’s success was total family buy-in. The entire family, included Alex’s younger brother, went on the diet years ago and has stayed on it to this day. Though this has involved sacrifices, such as making substitute cupcakes for friends’ birthday parties, the whole family has benefited from the new way of eating.

“The sacrifices are well worth the effort, as we all feel great,” according to Jean. “In fact, if Alex accidentally eats a non-safe food item, he feels the affects immediately. It actually takes 72 hours to flush the ‘bad food’ out of his system.”

A Typical Day

According to Jean, “The diet is more ‘normal’ than you might actually think. You simply have to pay close attention to approved brands of food. I use a Feingold Food List and Shopping Guide to determine what to buy at the market and never deviate from it. Fortunately, over the years, the selection has increased as more natural foods are available. On the flip side, there are also more products with additives, preservatives, and colors, so we are always reading labels.”

A typical breakfast might include an approved cereal and Horizon organic milk, along with fruit, such as pears or melon. For lunch, Alex might have a sandwich with lunch meat and cheese or possibly peanut butter and jelly. Brands like Jif or Adams natural peanut butter are safe to eat. Jean said, “I used to make my own bread but now there are more bakery options available, especially at grocers like Whole Foods.” Even some chips are fine to eat, too, such as plain Lay’s potato chips.

For dinner, they typically have minimally processed meats, like chicken or hamburgers, with rice and vegetables. Jean started gardening years ago, and now as a plethora of fresh vegetables from which to choose when they are in season.

Gluten and dairy are safe to eat on the Feingold diet, as well as sugar, so Alex eats all of these without any problems.

All Grown Up

Fortunately, Alex has continued to get a positive bill of health since he first went on the diet, a time period which has now spanned ten years. In fact, he has been successful in school, too. Jean mentioned, “Smart kids can get behind in school if they exhibit behavioral problems. With proper dietary adjustments, grades for kids with chemical sensitivities can improve one to two levels.”

He is now 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Washington, where he was able to get medical approval for priority to live in an apartment versus a dorm. Though he knows how to cook his meals without additives, preservative and artificial colors, he still likes his mom’s home-cooked meals. As Jean says, “He likes to stockpile his fridge after a visit home!”

Jean and her family live in Washington. I am very grateful to her for sharing this story.

Melinda Hinson